10th - 24th May (Mountain madness and Daz and Jamie in Brazil)
Firstly, I apologise for the fact my blog is way behind and secondly for the lack of photos - both will be rectified as soon as possible......
Back at La Paz I shared a room with Chris and Kim. I had a haircut that lasted an hour and a half as the barber was keen to learn a little English so that he could impress his daughter who was learning it at school. We found a good English type pub with decent food called 'Olivers travels'. The following day was one of the most exciting of the trip; cycling down death road!!! On superb mountain bikes with full suspension and disc brakes we cycled 64km, 61km of it downhill at up to 60kmh and mostly on winding gravel road with massive drops off the edge should you get it horribly wrong. Aaron, our English guide stopped us regularly along the way to tell us tragic tales of buses, lorries, cars and cycling tourists that had plummeted to their doom. Some of the views were amazing although there was a fair bit of cloud and mist around. I enjoyed every minute of it although the short uphill bit was a struggle (I blame the altitude). The road, though a bit hairy at times, is nowhere near as dangerous as it once was as there is now an alternative road which takes most of the vehicles leaving the cyclists to speed down the old road without much chance of meeting oncoming vehicles.
The following day I did a lot of gift shopping as there is loads of cool stuff around the La Paz shops and stalls. This got posted home a couple of days later.
I had to fly to Santiago in order to go on to Rio, this involved a stop at Iquique where we all had to get off, go through the same process of getting passports checked and bags scanned before getting back on - seemed a little stupid to me. Stayed overnight then flew on to Rio and it felt weird after once having such a huge pile of flight tickets to be down to the last one - the flight back home. After what seemed like a long flight and a long bus journey, I arrived in Copacabana where Darren and Jamie had arrived from England the previous day. I checked in to the plush hotel room they had booked, had the best shower I'd had in ages and went out on the town to catch up on everything over a few beers. Copacabana was one place I had heard quite a lot of bad stories about so I was a bit worried but the main streets were busy and well lit and soon put me at ease.
We spent a day being driven around the city sights by a good English speaking guide, including the sugarloaf mountain cable car, churches and cathedrals, the brightly coloured steps where we met the mad artist, various good viewpoints of the city and a good traditional lunch. Unfortunately the clouds never cleared from around the famous christ statue on Corcovado so we had to save that for the next day. A lot of the women like to wear very skimpy shorts which is fine by me!
Dazza went hand gliding and landed on the beach while I laid down and got a little burnt in a very short time. We took the obligatory photos of the christ statue before walking along Ipanema beach watching the super fit volleyball players as we went. There was a guy doing keepie ups with everything from a pea sized ball, an egg, to a coconut, he was very good, a few days later we saw him on MTV Brasil. In the evening we went to the Maracaña stadium where we watched the local team win the semi final of the Copa de Brasil 4-2. The stadium is the biggest in the world, it once held 210,000 but now it is all seating holds a meagre 130,000, very impressive but much more sedated than my experience at the away end of Colo Colo in Santiago.
The next day we took a boat to Ihla Grande where we stayed in an excellent and cheap posada (like a B&B). We spent most of the day on the beach, the sun was super hot and the sea was refreshingly cool and calm. I could get used to this, but it didn't last. In the evening we drank beer and Capriahnas, the traditional local drink, sickly sweet and very strong. The next day started clear and hot and we arranged a boat trip with a bloke at the posada; when we arrived at the port, in amongst all the lovely boats with decks where you could lie out and drink beer whilst being surrounded by beautiful chicas, we found our crappy little fishing boat and we were a little miffed at having booked up with this guy, however, it was a nice day, we snorkelled amongst some thankfully harmless jellyfish (that really gave Jamie the willies) and stopped at some pleasant beaches. It clouded over and we got back just as the rain started, we drank, played cards and 'chatted' to some local girls who spoke neither English or Spanish (they speak Portuguese here) before heading to the pretty crappy local nightclub.
I wish I had managed to get a photo of it - they have a red VW camper fire engine, it's hilarious! I've also seen them used as ambulances. It had rained on and off during the night but was now a downpour that would last all day, we watched the tedious FA cup final, played cards, and I ate jacket potato with mozzarella to which I added a big dollop of the marmite my friend Rich had sent over with Jamie. He also sent some much appreciated tetley tea bags and chocolate. There are not too many options here when the weather is bad, even the internet goes down so eventually we were left with no choice but to drink!
Again it rained most of the night but by morning it had slowed to drizzle. We took the boat to the mainland and a bus to Paraty, a really nice colonial town with cobbled streets, nice buildings, restaurants and shops (a bit pricey). We stayed in a nice B&B and I bought my first ever pair of flip flops (havianas) which were particularly hard work on the cobbles. We watched 'Blood Diamond', one of my pirate dvds and the quality was pretty bad. For the next few days the lads suffered a little with stomach aches and sore throats, I was fine though as I am made of stronger stuff!
The bus to Sao Paulo took five hours and a little kid threw up all over the aisle. Some of the coast, about an hour south of Paraty was stunning with expensive looking beach houses and a lot of boats. The bus on to Iguazu was nice but there was a massive fat woman with an irregular snore that lasted from the minute we got on to when we got off sixteen hours later. I watched Dukes of Hazard in Portuguese with Spanish subtitles before falling asleep with my walkman on. We stayed in a hostel on the Argie side of Iguazu but made a trip back across to the Brazil side to get some good views of the falls. Jamie was feeling quite ill that night and he spent the next morning in bed. Daz and I made the most of having lost the veggie by going to a parrilla for an all you can eat bbq meat fest. Jamie made it out to watch the champions league final on a big screen in a cafe with no atmosphere. Pizza and beer and six games of pool undefeated.
It's funny how some Argie restaurants have no concept of vegetarianism; one place where we had clearly stated in Spanish that Jamie was veggie brought out quesiladas which Jamie bit into and swallowed before realising had meat in. A bloke came out to explain that it was ok as it was only ham, not beef!!!
The sun was shining on the third day in Iguazu and we took a bus to the Argie side of the falls which was spectacular, we also went out on a jet boat where we got drenched by the spray. Some of the walkways that usually sit a little way above the water were now off limits; 6,000 cubic metres per second of water was falling instead of the usual 1,300 and as you stand on one of the walkways that overlooks the edge of a big fall it's amazing to watch, it put me in a bit of a trance so I could almost feel myself going over the edge. A quiet night in as Jamie tries to let his throat recover in time for the drinking to come in Buenos Aries, there's not too much to do in Iguazu town anyway.